We have twelve minutes to get off the road. Twelve minutes to get from the city centre to our home in the north, before the car is seized. …so we had better drive fast.
The traffic in Colombia’s capital thickens to a slow ooze, our ducking and weaving dragging to a mournful halt as we and other drivers attempt to make a dash for parking before our curfew.
“It’s the government’s way of regulating traffic,” my friend tells me, running panicked fingers through her dark hair as we watch the minutes ticking by a little too fast.
“Depending on the numbers of your registration and the date, on certain days you aren’t allowed to drive in peak times,” she honks at a taxi driver who is obliviously trying to drive into us, and mutters something in Spanish. “It’s called pico y placa. We have to get off the road by 3.”
Ten minutes to go.
The traffic jam stretches on before us as we inch past the architectural collage of modern and colonial buildings and monuments that is Bogota. Colourful graffiti adorns every inch of street level, masking new and old buildings alike. Civil unrest is plastered in plain sight in the form of paint splatters and spray, staining the city.
We’ve passed the road works causing the jam and now the cars fly through the winding streets, like a flooded river. I flinch as we swing across an intersection, narrowly missing another car who deftly weaves out of the way and carries on with his own homeward mission.
“There they go,” my friend says quietly, motioning to the group of policemen merging onto the main road beside us. We both check the time as they pass us, high vis jackets a stark contrast to the overcast city.
We are still many blocks from home and the countdown is closing in. Street venders and performers wait at the lights for their next captive audience, watching the cars flee by with indifference. We run a yellow light, sliding through another intersection with five minutes to go.
Praying our clock is right and the road is clear we make the final corner. Without a hesitation, we dash past a stopped truck, forcing us into the other lane and oncoming traffic. They stop and we continue on without words. The minutes tick on.
We pull into the parking lot as the clock ticks to 2:58. With just two minutes to spare we’ve made it. The tension breaks and we howl with laughter, reliving some of the more death defying manoeuvres of the drive home. The rest of the day we walk, joining other people banned from the roads that day.